The writing on the wall #7 – location, location, location

18 12 2014

Location, location, location...

Let’s for a moment put aside the discussion as to whether an investment by a law firm into premium real estate makes sense. Let’s assume that clients don’t object to funding acres of marble and an atrium full of lush vegetation. This question is about where your firm’s offices are, not what they are.

The location question is very personal. For some firms it might be simply be about growth – we are outgrowing our current premises – do we just need a bigger office, or should we open a second office (and if so, where). For other firms it might be about national expansion, or response to an existing or future competitive threat. However for many firms the stakes are higher, and it’s about international expansion.

It may be an understatement, but international strategy is not easy. Aside from the economics, the cultural, regulatory and language differences, suddenly the complexity and management overhead increases dramatically. Whether the market entry strategy is through acquisition, merger  or lateral hire, you can then throw a whole host of political and personal factors into the mix.

With that in mind, opening a new office seems like a decision to be made thoughtfully, but in a fast moving market that is changing more than ever, how can you make the time you need to really assess where the right locations are for you?


The writing on the wall #6 – quality talent equals high price?

17 12 2014

Quality talent = high price?

As the economy picks up, the gladiators pick up their weapons in the fight for talent again. With a raft of restructurings in the past five years, now that work is picking up, there are structural gaps in the talent profile of a number of similar firms. Make no mistake that the recession was long and deep enough that some very good people were cut adrift. Some of these remain available to the big law firms, albeit that they may look at firms through different eyes (and as a result seek to negotiate a different type of employment relationship). However, plenty of talented lawyers have left the pool of potential employees. Many have found a more natural home in one of the many flexible resource pools that have grown significantly even during tough times, and these “nomadic lawyers” are less likely to be tempted back to the mothership.

The lever many firms will look to pull, will be the big red salary one – paying premium wages for the best talent, and making a business case on the basis of the work these lawyers will not only service but help bring in. The challenge of course is that the market has changed, with general counsel now being far more price sensitive.

If the clients are not willing to pay increased fees to pay for the influx of talent at premium wages, what gives?

The writing on the wall #5 management complexity

15 12 2014


Firms are getting bigger. Mergers and International expansion may be the main culprits in recent years, bit add the economy slowly returns to growth, plenty of other law firms face the challenges associated with getting bigger.
Some, like the competition for talent are frequently mentioned, but there is another that is less talked about and yet arguably harder nut to crack. It’s the management overhead. Aside from the difficulty and effectiveness of management, how can firms manage the spiralling cost and resource drain?

Whether it’s professional management cost or the time of the most competent partners, it’s easy for it to grow unchecked. What’s the story in your firm?

The writing on the wall #4 – the commodity game

12 12 2014



It seems that whatever the practice area, lawyers talk in hushed tones about their work becoming a commodity. Corporate law, employment law, technology law are among the areas where there is much gnashing of teeth and squeezing of margins.

Much of the debate focuses on whether to do the commoditized elements and if so how to do them profitably, but there is little discussion of what will replace that work at the high end. I suspect the implications of this will be felt in the not-too-distant future.

The writing’s on the wall #3 – resistance to change

11 12 2014

IMG_4954.JPGThere is no shortage of commentary about the need for law firms to change in what is the most significant transition in the profession in a lifetime. Theories from Darwin to Kotter are cited yet firms still struggle with the day to day reality of change.

Partners speak of their frustration that things don’t move fast enough and clients are increasingly outspoken about the growing gap between their expectations and the service delivery they receive.

So for your firm, what’s at the heart of the resistance to change, and critically what can you do to address it?

The writing’s on the wall #2 – scale back your offices?

9 12 2014

Given property is often the second biggest cost of a law firm behind head count, I wonder what the impact would be of scaling back prestigious offices and reinvesting some of the capital in technology that would make a real difference for clients.



A new beginning – the writing’s on the wall

9 12 2014
Efficiency + Growth = ?

Efficiency + Growth = ?

Almost exactly three years since I called time on this blog (see The End of the Beginning) , I now feel called to reignite it but in a way that better fits in with the way social media has evolved. The battle for attention has intensified – lawyers and their business colleagues (whether in law firms or businesses) are more overloaded with information than ever. A partner at a large UK law firm calls it the “fight against digital obesity” while another talks of fee earner productivity in firms dropping, yet the lawyers are working harder than ever.

Working in the profession for nearly twenty years, as lawyer, client, consultant and supplier, this is a trend I have seen evolve and intensify. As Davenport highlighted in his book The Attention Economy, attention is an increasingly critical resource. With this in mind, I have over the last ten years refined a set of content sources that consistently cover the most relevant and thought provoking trends in the fast-changing legal market place and the skills and capabilities lawyers and their colleagues need to stay ahead of the game. I curate and share the best of this via twitter and Linkedin, and am conscious that the legal world probably doesn’t need me starting blogging again and adding another item to an overloaded agenda.

The other aspect to this is that much of my message in the last ten years has been the need for law firms to embrace efficient working (a challenge which many of the large firms are now genuinely meeting rather than skirting round the edges), and as such I believe it is important for me to operate in a way which makes a thoughtful trade off between the time I invest in the blog and the impact it has for my readers, my company and for me personally (and anyone else with a similar philosophy might like a look at Essentialism, one of the best books I read this year).

For my readers, I do believe I can offer a different perspective on the legal market. As well as the roles I mentioned earlier, I have spent the last three years focusing on the world of in-house counsel in the UK, and have interviewed, researched and worked with many different in-house teams. For the last six months I have been in a similar role working with the UK’s largest law firms, which adds another dimension to my thinking. Synthesising this and drawing out key trends prompts a number of questions in my mind about the challenges facing the profession.

It is these questions that will form the basis of this blog’s revival – posted as “the writing on the wall”. As ever, I’d love your feedback on both the format and content. I genuinely hope they are useful and get you thinking.